On February 1 the season changed for No. 3 Arizona. That day may have been capped by a 60-58 loss at Cal, but the biggest loss was that of sophomore Brandon Ashley. Ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a broken foot, Ashley was one of Arizona’s most versatile players on both ends of the floor. To lose a player of his status requires an adjustment period, with the remaining players needing to get used to new roles.
And after their 88-61 win at Colorado in which the Wildcats put together a second half that ranks among their best halves of basketball all season long, Sean Miller’s team followed that performance with an 87-59 whipping of the Golden Bears in Tucson.
Nick Johnson led five Wildcats in double figures with 22 points (seven rebounds and five assists as well), and as a team Arizona shot 50.8% from the field. Eighteen of their 32 field goals were assisted, and Arizona also racked up 30 points in the paint with Cal big men David Kravish and Richard Solomon struggling with early foul trouble. Offensively speaking, Arizona’s performance on Wednesday was another step forward for a group that needed time to adjust to playing without Ashley.
In their last three halves of basketball Arizona’s shot 54-for-89, which works out to a “solid” 60.7%. With their ability to attack teams with both the dribble and the pass, Arizona’s done a good job during this recent run of not settling for long-range shots. In their last three halves of play, 71.9% of Arizona’s field goal attempts have been two-point shots. And when they have taken perimeter shots Arizona’s converted, making 12 of their 25 attempts (48%) from beyond the arc.
The only player to have issues offensively on Wednesday night was Gabe York (1-for-7 FG), but as he did against Colorado (ten rebounds) the sophomore contributed in other areas. York accounted for five rebounds and five assists, one of three Wildcats to tally at least five helpers on the night with Johnson (five) and T.J. McConnell (six) being the others. And with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson adding 12 points and ten rebounds off the bench, York’s quiet shooting night was even less of a concern.
Arizona’s ability to defend wasn’t going to change as a result of Ashley’s injury. The offensive end of the floor was where the concerns lie and that took longer to fine-tune, which is to be expected when considering how valuable Ashley was. But if anything’s to be taken from the last three halves of basketball that Arizona has played, it’s that they’re getting more comfortable with their adjusted responsibilities on that end of the floor. And that makes Arizona every bit the threat to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State has climbed on the back of star senior wing Denzel Valentine early in the season but they’ll undoubtedly need more help as the season goes on if they want to sustain their current top-5 ranking. One of the keys to the Spartans could be the on-going health of sophomore point guard Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn, who is battling a foot injury.
According to a report from Kyle Austin of MLive.com, Nairn has been putting on a protective boot the last few months to help battle plantar fasciitis as the guard has been playing in practices and hasn’t had his minutes reduced in games.
The injury looked like it was hurting Nairn’s early-season play, but he’s been very good in two games at the Wooden Legacy in California this week, so it could be that he’s getting more used to playing through the pain of the injury.
If Nairn is healthy and capable of contributing, he’s a huge boost to Michigan State because he’s one of the fastest players in college basketball and an additional ball handler on the floor. Through six games so far this season, Nairn is averaging 5.3 points and 4.7 assists per game as he’s been one of the team’s best distributors.
Plantar fasciitis can be a tough injury to fight through, so we’ll have to see if this affects Nairn as the season goes along.
GAME OF THE DAY: George Washington vs. No. 24 Cincinnati, 1:30 p.m.
Two 6-0 teams clash at the Barclays Center in what could be an important game for NCAA tournament resumes of both teams. The Bearcats picked up their most legitimate win over Nebraska, but the Colonials pose as a more real threat after they beat Virginia at home earlier this season. Cincinnati hasn’t shot the ball well in recent wins, but they’re beating up opponents on the glass and the defense has been solid. George Washington is coming off of a win over Tennessee in which they held off the Volunteers in the second half. The Colonials have lost 20 of their last 23 against ranked opponents, but another win over a top team would look great for them going forward.
THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 4 Iowa State vs. Illinois, 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
This game is apart of the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida as the Illini could desperately use a win after a 3-3 start. Illinois head coach John Groce and his team are feeling the pressure for a big win on a neutral site after falling to North Florida, Providence and Chattanooga earlier in the season. The No. 4 Cyclones easily dispatched Virginia Tech earlier in the event and have found a nice balance on offense with the emergence of senior big man Jameel McKay inside.
SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR
- N0. 2 Maryland has struggled to put away teams early at times this season and they’ll try to change that behavior when they host Cleveland State.
- Staying in the Big Ten, No. 16 Purdue hosts Lehigh. With a game at Pitt and against New Mexico looming, could this be a trap game for the Boilers?
- Nebraska and Tennessee take the floor in consolation action at the Barclays Center. The Huskers need someone besides Shavon Shields and Andrew White to step up in the scoring column while Tennessee is getting huge numbers from senior guard Kevin Punter.
- Two 4-0 teams will meet in Brooklyn as Louisville takes on Saint Louis (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). Neither team has faced a significant test this season and this is the Cardinals’ first game away from home.
- An intriguing night game to keep an eye on is Belmont traveling to BYU (8:00 p.m.). The Bruins are as well-coached as any team in the country and forward Evan Bradds has been playing great ball to start the season. The Cougars don’t have a high scorer like they did in the past, but Kyle Collinsworth is a triple-double threat every time he steps on the floor and BYU has a lot of weapons around him.
- UAB and Virginia Tech battle in one of the more intriguing consolation games of the Emerald Coast Classic. Both teams are coming off of disappointing losses but have a shot to make things better on the trip with a solid win on Saturday.
OTHER NOTABLE GAMES
- Bryant at Georgetown, 11:00 a.m. (FS2)
- Bucknell at Penn State , 12:00 p.m.
- Tennessee-Martin vs. Mississippi State, 12:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
- Ole Miss at Bradley, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
- Old Dominion at VCU, 3:00 p.m.
- Hawaii at Texas Tech, 3:00 p.m.
- Kent State at Pitt, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
- SIU-Edwardsville at Butler, 4:00 p.m.
- Georgia at Seton Hall, 6:30 p.m.
- Western Illinois at Creigton, 7:00 p.m.
- Colorado State vs UTEP, 7:30 p.m.